Gov't

Newly Formed City Council Has Heated First Meeting

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By Dave Freneaux

In the first meeting of the Central City Council since the exit of Joan Lansing and Lucky Ross, new Councilmen LoBue and Messina very quickly became involved in the Council process.  In what was almost certainly the longest Council meeting in recent years, the Council and public debated and spoke for over three hours.  Facing a CentralSpeaks.com publication deadline less than an hour away, this article will be as concise a retelling of the meeting as can be accomplished under time pressure.
 
Mayor Watts requested that the Council confirm his re-appointment of the City Clerk and the Court Magistrate, which the Council did unanimously.  Mayor Watts then requested that the Council confirm his re-appointment of City Attorney Sheri Morris.  Councilman LoBue requested that Ms. Morris only be retained for 90 days while a search could be done to interview other potential applicants for the position.  It was pointed out that it is the Mayor's right to submit the candidate for appointment and that the role of the Council is to either confirm or disapprove of the Mayor's choice.  The re-appointment of Ms. Morris as Central's City Attorney was moved and seconded.  Councilmen Moak and DeJohn approved the appointment but Councilmen LoBue, Messina and Washington denied confirmation and effectively terminated Ms. Morris, leaving the City without legal representation.  Seeing that this was an unacceptable situation, the Council acted to restore Ms. Morris as the City Attorney for a period of 90 days.  It is unclear from the discussion whether the Mayor intends to allow Council members to involve themselves in his selection of a City Attorney to be submitted for confirmation in the next 90 days.
 
The Council then attempted to select a Mayor Pro-Tempore, being the Councilman who fills in in the absence of the Mayor.  Councilman DeJohn made a non-binding request that the Councilmen elect this position but refrain from voting for themselves, which would be the rule if this were a paid position.  Moak and DeJohn voted for Messina, Messina abstained, and LoBue and Washington voted for Washington.  With a tie, no new Mayor Pro-Tempore was elected so Mr. Washington will continue in that position until another vote is taken.
 
Ordinances were introduced for discussion at the July 27th Council meeting, including a move to cut funding for the City's Master Plan from $100,000 to $50,000 and to delete the entire $50,000 funding for Economic Development.  An ordinance by Mr. Moak was approved which enacted a 6 month moratorium on approval of any additional C-AB-2 zonings, which are bars, while the issue is studied by the Council to determine what zoning rules will best serve Central in the long term.
 
Mr. DeJohn presented the new graduated Permit Fee structure which places Central below neighboring cities in large commercial projects such as the Central School construction.  The new total of permit fees which will be paid for all of Central's school renovations and construction will be approximately $87,000.  Mr. DeJohn also presented data supporting that Central's residential construction permit fees are only about 10% higher than those of Baton Rouge.
 
Finally, Councilmen LoBue, Messina and Washington co-sponsored a resolution supporting the release of documents in possession of CH2M HILL relating to an advertisement it published in the Advocate.  Much heated discussion ensued with a final vote of 3 to 1 in favor, with DeJohn voting no and Moak abstaining.  The resolution has no binding effect on CH2M HILL.

21 Comments

  1. Concerned

    July 14, 2010 at 9:16 am

    It is sad to see such a split on the council. In my reading and understanding of the laws How did 3 council members get together and put together a Resolution and not be in violation of open meeting laws ? not supposed to have more than two at a time contacting on a given subject? thats why we have meetings so this can all be brought out in the veiw of all not behind closed doors!!

  2. Mike mannino

    July 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Concerned Citizen,
    If you were worried about this last night, why have you not come forward in the past ? This has been happening on a regular basis with the old council. As was stated last night though, just to correct your comments, they did not meet, the resolution was written by Mr. Washington, sent to MS Morris for editing, then forwarded to the other 2 members on the resolution. All legal and above board with the City attorney advising along the way. So lets kill that rumor before it creates more division.

  3. Concerned

    July 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Uhh Ok !I dont have a record of all the motions passed by concil but I cant recall any that have had 3 names untill now . I have never seen a public display like what happened lastnight the new members and one old need to read the rules and laws and learn to think about what they do as not to screw everything up Ie. fireing your Att. and not being able to finish the meeting at all !Im not trying to Split anything Mike (unlike others have for the last 6 months)But its funny how that comes up when someone says something negative about Woodys group of guys!I just saying it is not as easy from the outside to make armchair quarterback calls as it is with them sitting up there haveing rules to follow !And yes it does look suspicous the three woody guys all put there name on a resolution and vote to do what woody wants !

  4. Mike mannino

    July 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    We are going to have to agree that there is and always will be a split in opinion in a group of people, any group. Thats what makes us individuals to think on our own.

    I will tell you, I wasnt real happy with the way the issues with the City Attorney was handled. Could and should have been done different. I actually winced and felt concern for Ms. Morris during this discussion. But that concern disappeared during the CH2 discussion when she stated that SHE had advised CH2 to not release the requested documents. What in the heck is up with that ? That type behavior may be behind the councilmans vote to look at other options. I dont know. But the gentleman who stood up to talk about issues he has personally experienced with getting records from Ms Morris has a large collection of documentation dealing with her that would blow your mind. He has been trying since the inception of this city to get the powers to be to enforce ordinances at a business operating in a residential area with no success. Its a story you would not believe.

    As far as these councilman being part of Woodys “guys”, you could not be further from the truth and I know all 3 very well and I’ll leave it at that. Just because someone agrees with a certain position, doesnt make them part of some conspiracy. I think as time goes on, you will see that the 2 new members are very independant and may not vote together on all issues. But they will stand together on doing the right thing.
    I sincerely hope we can stop aligning ourselves with our friends just because we know them and start taking a stance to put relationships, relatives and friends aside and start working towards fixing problems whether they are on one side or the other. They are all OUR problems and we are wasting energy fighting about it that could be used to fix things. “Fixing” does not mean ignoring the obvious or being content with the status quo if we can do better. I think thats the attitude our new members have and I will support them but wont hesitate to make my feelings known if I dont agree or hear that many others dont agree with what they are doing. They want that input and I know they will listen to the people and not a select few.

  5. Cheryl Dupuy

    July 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    To Concerned,

    It disturbs me that you say,”thats why we have meetings so this can all be brought out in the veiw of all not behind closed doors!!”, but then you are cloaked behind the name “Concerned.”

    To Everyone,

    I am concerned about this city just as many others are, however, I applaud those who take a position and own up to it. My views are not popular with everyone, but they are my own as a citizen with nothing to gain but a community in which I can proudly call home.

    I am saddened by the division that is taking place in Central. The power struggle that is occurring is alienating people instead of bringing them together to work for what is best in this community. For those that say they are indeed working for the betterment of Central, I ask you to consider your tactics. Why not use simple discussion in place of accusations and mud-slinging? It is politics as usual when a group of people conspire to run a government or a board according to their own agenda – whether it be the existing officials or those desiring to replace them. ALL elected officials are supposed to represent the constituents who voted them into office. This community will not thrive until biases are set aside and personal agendas are laid to rest.

  6. Mike Mannino

    July 14, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Cheryl,
    Agree with everything uou said and would be part of anyh effort to heal the divide. In fact, I am working with someone right now to get a facilator to lead a meetng for people to voice their concerns and come out with reccomendations.

    However, I take exception to yout comments about a conspiracy unless you apply it to any group of like minded people that have a common goal. Then we all are involved in one way or another.

    It is quite concerning to me that anyone who demands that we act in a responsible ethical way is now somehow considered the enemy because we are tired of the way things have been going. Myself and Mr Shelton were condemmed during the election for coming out so strong against the permit system we had in place. All yhe officials at the time denied there was a problem yet what happened last night ? Mr Dejohn, after much hard work, submitted a revised fee schedule. So who was wrong ? Should I not say anything to prompt someone to look into it ?

    I would like to think we could all hold hands and sing cumba ya together but its not going to happen. We have a fairly even split of opinions as we do all across this country. Its all going to depend on which side gets the people with their views into office. Thats how it works. We have endured the past four years, now those that dont agree with the current officials will have to endure the next four.

  7. Cheryl Dupuy

    July 15, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Mr. Mannino,

    I’m not quite sure why you would take exception to my comment. I thought I was clearly stating my feelings that it does not bode well for people to conspire to fulfill their “own” agendas instead of striving to work together for the common good of the community.

    Your response to my posting gives the appearance that you want to draw me into a debate as to which side I stand on or agree with. Sir, I take no “side” other than the one that benefits Central as a whole. Yes, there have been mistakes and poor judgments by those in authority and I am sure there will be more in the future. When I addressed “those that say they are indeed working for the betterment of Central,” I was not addressing a “side”. That’s because I firmly believe that there are some people who have been serving this community who have endeavored to do the right thing for this community. I also believe there are many others who are striving to effect positive change within this community as well.

    And sir, your comments,”Thats how it works. We have endured the past four years, now those that dont agree with the current officials will have to endure the next four”, aren’t very promising. To use the term “endure” gives the connotation that Central will again have to put up with something or somebody unpleasant. I think it is a little too soon to be judging the newly elected officials along with those who have previously served without the benefit of experiencing their methods of governing together. We may all be in for some very pleasant surprises.

    You, and many others, may say I am naive to think that personal differences can be set aside in an effort to make this community better and stronger. Let me just say that I am hopeful that ill feelings will be set aside and that members of this community will begin to look at what benefits everyone – not only a select few – and strive to move this city forward in a positive way.

    Mr. Mannino, I believe we both want what is in the best interest of this community. We just have different ways of expressing it.

  8. Mike mannino

    July 15, 2010 at 7:00 am

    I think we agree on doing what best for Central Ms. Dupuy and I will do everything I can to at least get people more towards the middle. I have 3 grandchildren that all will grow up in Central and sure dont want them growing up in a toxic political environment. I think the key thing we all miss is our younger people quickly pick up our habits, good or bad, and we are setting a bad example. If we dont do the right thing for them, what have we accomplished ?

  9. Mike Stephens

    July 15, 2010 at 8:43 am

    In all the heat and passion that was exhibited at the council meeting Tuesday night there are some things that resulted from the meeting that we all should be excited about. LEADERSHIP AND UNSELFISHNESS

    Councilman DeJohns hard work to correct the problems of the commercial permit fees. He passed out copies of the information that had been gathered and was well prepared to answer any questions.

    Councilman Moak who requested a 6 mth moratorium on any new C-AB-2 zoning will give us all the the oppertunity to express our veiws. This coupled with the land use plan for Central will help determine the developement and future of Central. This is also the person who stood in front of 2 or 3 differant locations in Central during the sports bar debate seeking our input.

    Perhaps the most exciting of all is Councilman Messina’s willingness to lead by accepting the nomination of Mayor Pro-Tempore. By NOT voting for himself speaks volumes about his will to serve and his LEADERSHIP AND UNSELFISHNESS.

  10. Wayne N Messina

    July 15, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for everyones comments… One thing that I know for a fact I AM NO ONES BOY. I ran for office because of my love and caring for the City of Central and wanting to HELP people. I ran not wanting to be a POLITICIAN, but to be a PUBLIC SERVANT.. That is what I am about. Do I believe it is going to be smooth sailing, all the time, absolutely not.. Do I believe that, I , or anyone else can please ALL THE PEOPLE, ALL THE TIME, ABSOLUTELY NOT.. I shall do everything in my power to do what is RIGHT and what is BEST for the City of Central and our great citizens that live here. WNM

  11. Mike mannino

    July 15, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I wont address the incumbent councilmen because we already have history with them but to all that are concerned about the 2 new council members, I can tell you without any hesitation or doubt, these 2 are as independent as you could ever ask for. I got to know them well during the campaign and though I am not easily convinced, I emphatically say I was very impressed with their committment to doing whats right for all the citizens of Central. They will listen to your concerns and always vote to do the right thing. They understand ethics and both carefully look at the process to make sure they not only are following the rules, but also be sure they dont have any appearance of an ethical lapse. Will they make mistakes ? Absolutely as that is a flaw in all of us. Unfortuately, nobody is perfect but if they do, they will be more than willing to admit to it and fix the mistake. Will there be willfull intent to do anything wrong ? ABSOLUTELY NOT! They believe in fairness, treating everyone the same, and consistency. I ask that we all be patient and I’m sure all of you will come to respect not only their ability, but their leadership qualities and strong sense of right and wrong. I have all the faith in the world that at the end of their term, we will be very pleased with what they have brought to the table for our City. Mr. Messina demonstrated how much he values his reputation when he sternly defended himself against an accusation of doing something wrong at the council meeting Tuesday. His strong response tells me all I need to know……..

  12. Nathan

    July 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I want everyone to stop and take a collective breath and focus on where we have started and where we will end up. I personally feel that Central jumped into this municipality not fully realizing the problems that go along with establishing a government from scratch. We often look at our neighbors Baker and Zachary and see how much potential being incorporated has to offer to a community. Problem with the comparison is these cities have been established governments for a long time. They were still attached to EBR school system but they both had established local governments. Central had to start from nothing and build something. Which leads me into my next comment. I hope everyone sees how important it is to elect qualified individuals. We often see in politics that it is not the actual issues but more less a popularity and slander contest. I think as a whole central needs to pull together and break up this definite line that is being drawn between council and mayor. We as citizens elected these officials to do a specific job for this community and should not comment or criticize every issue when it does not go our way. Remember everyone has the right to run for office if you feel so strongly about the difference you can make. I think that it makes good government when you can see healthy debate between adults on issues that are very complex. I see a failing system when a council cannot have the authority to question the decisions made by the mayor or anyone who proposes change. It is the responsibility of the elected officials to serve there community without showing any partiality towards any issue other then what they feel is the best decision for everyone. I would like to close by saying thank you to the mayor, council and everyone who has worked countless hours in trying to make this place we call Central. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Donna Dufour

    July 16, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I think too much credit is being given Woody when it comes to politics here in Central. He owns and controls a Central News Paper,that’s it. This lawsuit would’ve been filed by me if I had the funds and means to do it. Woody is a journalist. Journalist doesn’t like to be told you can’t see this or you can’t hear that. It violates everything they stand for and many laws also. Everyone has an opinion on the public records issue, even some that shouldn’t because of their position in City Government. This will soon be decided by a Judge, but be prepared. No matter her decision I’m sure it will be appealed by one or the other. I think I know why Woody is so head strong about getting the records, but why is CH2MHIL so head strong not to give them? Why is the City and our Attorney standing behind them? They represent us not CH2MHILL! I guess this boils down to “Are you Woody man or Watts man?”. I prefer to be a citizen of Central wanting to know the truth and having the freedom to speak when I don’t agree with something without being called somebody’s man or woman.

  14. Mike mannino

    July 16, 2010 at 11:15 am

    There obviously has to be more to this than it appears. Cant be just on principal. Why in the world would something that appears to be very minor on the surface be worth spending all this time and money on and alienating the community? Why is the City attorney involved and now risking her job for it ? Only one answer. It leads to something much bigger. Anyone with a better conclusion that makes sense, I’m all ears.

  15. Chris

    July 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    This is just my opinion, I have not spoken to anyone to verify any of this.

    CH2MHILL is a private company, I doubt they would open there records for ANYONE! You may say yes but since they deal with cities they should open their records. If that is the case, maybe someone could point out one case in which they opened their records for the public to view. If CH2MHILL has a business practice to not open their private records, why would they in this case, or any case that comes up.

    Is it possible that the City Attorney is acting, in her legal opinion, by what is bound by the contract. Is it risking your job by doing what is legally correct? So she should just ignore the legal matters and tell CH2MHILL to comply with Woddy’s request.

    Is it possible that the same person from CH2MHILL that placed the ads in the Central City News during the election was the same person that placed the ad in The Advocate? Woody did not complain about CH2MHILL while he was taking their money to place ads in his paper.

  16. Paul

    July 16, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I have to agree with Nathan. I think many jumped into incorporation without really examining what that would mean. I voted for the incorporation and still think it was the right thing to do but it is apparent that many people thought the incorporation would only involve breaking away from EBR schools, however that will not prove to be the case. We may have to do it slowly, but we will need to take responsibility for all aspects of government – schools, fire, police, public works, et al. There are great reasons not to outsource many of these.

    I applaud all the Council members for serving and hope that they all do so for the success of Central. I believe they all will and encourage each of them to vote sensibly and on behalf of the citizens. Of the current members, I only personally know Mr. Messina and worked with him for several years while he was at Baker High and I was at Baker PD. It has been my experience that he makes decisions carefully and with the best interest of those he is serving. I am sure we will not always agree, but I appreciate his honesty and accessibility on the issues.

    People shouldn’t mistake disagreement with fighting. Only through spirited debate will the best interests of Central be served.

  17. Paul

    July 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Chris,

    I might be inclined to agree with you if CH2M Hill was not contracted to provide public services and we were only talking about their private business. If CH2M Hill were providing their services to individuals or other private business, than I would say their records are not our business. However, they are contracted with our city government to provide services to us, paid for with our tax dollars. The government and/or the people served by the government, have the right to audit and question how those tax dollars are spent.

  18. Mike Mannino

    July 17, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Agree Paul. Chris’s dog wont hunt if you read the contract. Also, it is common practice where I work for contractors to have to open their books to us. What is even more damning is a Baton ROuge Business report article from the year that this contract was signed. Statements by Ms Morris and the fall guy from CH2 that has fled the state indicated that they would open all records to the public. Guess they changed their mind……….

  19. beth

    July 19, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I am very much aware of the different angles and opinions on the CH2M Hill contract, the lawsuit, and the state of our city in general. We could repeat our opinions on the matter for years, and that may indeed happen. I am not about to say that mistakes have not been made, as we would not be in this situation were that the case. But when it comes to how we are interacting with each other and with our city officials and employees, we have a problem, and we are all at fault.

    There is a difference between holding people accountable and in ripping them to shreds, whether that be personally or professionally. It is amazing how casually we tear each other down in the guise of fair debate or in saying “what needs to be said.” Maybe we could afford to pray for wisdom for these people who have difficult decisions to make, rather than lining up waiting for a mistake to be made. We all know how eagerly we wait to see what folly someone on the “other side” will make in a public meeting or in an open forum. Does that not make every one of us a little sad?

    No matter what the outcome of the court case, our city has a very difficult time ahead and some very important decisions to make for the future. Given that fact, we can choose to make every step harder or to lift each other up in the hope that we can start making good decisions and working as a community. I am not advocating a lack of accountability or responsibility. I am suggesting the possibility that we have fallen as a city and need to help each other up. Each of us believes that we have the best intentions at heart, and that we are loving people. Take that a step further and let that goodness be your focus. Truly acting out of unselfish love will not lead any of us down the wrong path.

    Let the chips fall where they may, and let the city officials handle the results in the best way that they can find. These are our elected representatives, after all, and we do not have much of a choice in the matter at this point. All of the righteous indignation in the world will not make one tiny dent in the situation. Prayer and offers of support, however, can make a world of difference. Consider your neighbors and the way that you wish to be perceived by those around you. Consider the impact that you want to make on your community and upon what foundation you want to build your city, because right now we are all building on power plays and frustration. Any victory achieved in this way cannot be worth the cost.

  20. Donn Dufour

    July 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more Beth. Now if you can get Mayor Watts, the Council, Sherri Morris & CH2Mil to see it your way then the answer is simple. Furnish the public records requested. When they are found innocent of the accusations & allegations, spoken and unspoken, then they will be vindicated and this should stop. But if you are suggesting the public sit down, shut up and let bygones be bygones, sorry can’t do that.

  21. mike mannino

    July 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I agree Donna. The first step to making this all go away is to come clean. It is ridiculous to lay the blame for this on those that demand the truth and I’m fed up with it. First step to forgiveness is to admit your mistake. If you want to bring prayer into this, which I certainly agree on, I as a Catholic must go to confession and admit my sins before God will forgive me. I suggest those involved admit what is going on, pay the price if there is one, and I will forgive. I WILL ask jesus to give the persons involved the strength to come forward because they hold the key to fixing this. Cant hardly forgive someone for something until they tell me what it is they are asking forgiveness for. I have no obligation to even come to the middle on something like this, its all on the official(s) shoulders. What should be a minor thing is tearing this City apart and it aint our fault.

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